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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 18, 2010

Incinerator is part of final waste plan for county

By Anne Hayden

ALBANY COUNTY — A controversial waste-to-energy incinerator, part of the draft plan presented to the county’s solid waste management committee in December, is on the list of recommendations in the final plan, released to the Albany Common Council earlier this month. The plan also recommends the creation of a countywide authority to manage waste.

Currently, the city of Albany gets a large part of its annual budget from the local municipalities and private contractors who dump waste at the Rapp Road landfill. Included in the Capital Region Solid Waste Management Partnership Planning Unit, using the landfill, are New Scotland, Berne, Knox, Westerlo, Rensselaerville, Voorheesville, and Altamont. Guilderland withdrew last year and now takes its waste to Colonie.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, in June, permitted the dump to make its fifth, and last, expansion into the Pine Bush. On Monday, the city’s common council voted down bonding nearly $6 million for equipment and engineering fees for the expansion. 

The proposed waste-to-energy system is vastly different from incinerators of the past, according to Kevin Crosier, the former supervisor of the town of Berne, and a member of the committee.

“They are so efficient now that they pretty much have zero emission. They are as close to environmentally friendly as you can get,” Crosier said. He said not everyone on the committee agreed on the system, but that the majority felt it was a good idea.

However, critics, such as Neil Seldman, president of the Institute for Self Reliance, asserts in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, “Incineration is a costly dead end, in which the tipping fees and revenues from selling electricity do not cover the costs of operation and debt repayment.”

The waste-to-energy system would have the ability to consume hundreds of tons of waste per week, said Crosier, and the committee discussed the feasibility of other counties getting involved with its use. He said the consortium of municipalities that use the city-owned dump might not generate enough waste to run the incinerator.

The cost of such a facility, though, could be $332 million, which was the price paid for one in 2009 in Frederick County, Md. There could be other benefits to the system, aside from the elimination of waste in the landfill, according to Crosier. He said the fly ash from the incinerator could be used in road construction and other similar projects.

Recycling stressed

The chairman of the steering committee, William Bruce, emphasized the plan’s focus on aggressive recycling. He outlined the need for educating residents about reducing their waste, and for urging commercial businesses to start recycling more. He also indicated that new programs for diverting and re-using waste should be created, including the composting of organic waste material.

The goal outlined in the plan is to achieve a waste diversion rate of 65 percent by the year 2020. The current diversion rate, said Bruce, is somewhere around 30 percent. According to Bruce, the plan, released to Albany’s common council on March 2 followed the state’s waste hierarchy — waste avoidance, waste reduction, resource recovery, and, least desirable, a landfill.

Authority needed?

“The plan is not recommending a new landfill anywhere in the county,” Bruce said.

Due to the scope and depth of the solid-waste management process, the plan recommends the creation of a solid waste management authority. Crosier said, in his opinion, an authority to oversee the entire process would be the best option, although some members of the committee thought it would be just another layer of government.

Lynne Jackson, a founding member of the watchdog group Save the Pine Bush, said she felt the formation of a solid waste management authority would be a waste of time, because the plan assumes the landfill expansion will go forward. Save the Pine Bush has challenged the expansion in court, but was turned down at the appellate division.

The expansion is expected to accommodate the consortium’s roughly 450-square-mile surface, serving about 220,000 people until 2016. Save the Pine Bush opposes the expansion because the not-for-profit group strives to protect the globally rare pine barren.

Additionally, Jackson voiced concerns that any debt incurred by the city of Albany during the expansion of the landfill would be acquired by the solid-waste management authority, if one were to be created.

“There are other alternatives for the city’s solid waste. We do not need to expand the landfill into the Pine Bush,” Jackson said. But, according to Crosier, the creation of an authority and the recommendations in the solid waste management plan are meant to do just that — find alternatives.

“The committee spend an exorbitant amount of time looking for ways to eliminate waste in the landfill,” said Crosier. “It was a very open process, with a lot of public input, some of which was incorporated into the recommendations.”

The solid waste management committee was disbanded after its last meeting on March 2, Bruce said. It is now up to the Albany Common Council to set dates for a minimum of two public hearings on the plan. 

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